AIFF-FIFA Academy Faces Scouting Challenges: Arsene Wenger Discards 38 Trainees

The AIFF’s player selection methodology, especially at the grassroots and youth levels, has come under scrutiny once again, with criticism directed towards scouting methods. The recent evaluation of the AIFF-FIFA Academy in Bhubaneswar by a FIFA team led by Arsene Wenger has heightened concerns within the Indian football base.

The FIFA evaluation, conducted following the memorandum of understanding signing on November 21 for the AIFF-FIFA Talent Academy, revealed that out of the initial 50 under-14 boys selected by AIFF scouts, 38 were discarded by the FIFA team. The AIFF had initially chosen 41 boys from the sub-junior national championships and the Subroto Cup held in September, with nine boys from Odisha completing the initial 50.

The evaluation process exposed differences in player assessment between Arsene Wenger, FIFA’s chief of global football development, and AIFF scouts. This outcome has prompted a need for new player scouting, primarily from the under-13 and under-15 national leagues starting in January 2024.

The outcome has caused a delay in the full implementation of the academy under the guidance of Spanish coach Sergio Fontronda. The FIFA team, having identified “super scouts” and conducted workshops, will play a pivotal role in aiding the AIFF in the meticulous process of player identification.

AIFF’s acting secretary-general, M Satyanarayan, acknowledged the challenges and emphasized the need for a thorough scouting process. The target is to have all 30 trainees selected by June 2024. The focus will be on youth leagues, involving academies, ISL, and I-League clubs. The selected 30 players will spend 340 days a year at the academy, with the goal of preparing the team for the 2026 under-17 World Cup qualifiers.

The AIFF remains committed to addressing challenges in talent identification, aiming for a robust grassroots scouting system.